Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Springer Mountain and the BMT, part 2.

The first weekend of December, my sister and I went to Northern Georgia to do some hiking. While I was living in Chattanooga I had purchased a book with 50 trails in the North Georgia mountains, and I wanted to knock a couple of these trails out. We used some free nights I had earned from a hotel loyalty program I was part of, and set our minds to hike one trail on Sunday and one on Monday.

We got into Helen, GA fairly late on Saturday, and ended up getting up much later than I had hoped on Sunday. It wasn't until after noon that we got started out for the day. After a trip to local IGA for some supplies, we decided to walk the Tennessee Rock trail up at Black Mountain State Park (the highest state park in Georgia). Of course it was unseasonably warm, so we thought it would be a great day for a hike up in the mountains.

After a nice drive through mountains and lunch in Clayton, GA, we made the turn off of US 441 towards the state park. Lo and behold the highest state park in Georgia is also a park that closes in the winter. So it is 70 degrees out (OK, probably around 55-60 up in the mountains), the sky is crystal clear, and the freaking State Park is closed. They were so rigid they didn't even have one last weekend before closing. Apparently December 1 MEANS December 1 to Georgia State Parks.

Because of our late start, the early sunset, and the fact that Tennessee Rock was the farthest away of the three options, we had effectively ruined our shot at hiking much of anything on Sunday. Instead we drove even farther, through Franklin and up to Wayah Bald. Wayah Bald is a high point on the AT in North Carolina, and is one of the easiest points on the trail to get to that isn't on a road crossing (or train station). All it takes is driving up a winding road from Franklin, then drive up another winding gravel road, and park at the nice new paved lot. From there it is a short walk along the paved AT to the Wayah Bald tower, which provides a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge of TN, NC, and GA. From atop the tower, we could see Clingman's Dome, the highest point in TN and the AT. It's hard to believe that it is less than thirty miles in a straightline to there. By car it would take about two hours or more to get there, and by foot it would take many days of grueling ups and downs to reach it.

The short walk to and from Wayah Bald was the sum total of our hiking that day. However, we enjoyed a nice drive through the now leafless mountains, and some excellent views atop that peaceful bald. I don't consider it a waste, and considering how much of an ordeal the next day turned out to be, I'm kind of glad I didn't walk several miles on Sunday. But that's another story, one that my sister tells so well.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Journey: Up and Down

Dates: August 9 to August 22

Weight Change (Period): 0 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -19.4 lbs

Although the result for the past two weeks was no change from the previous weight, that hides the actual truth of the past couple of weeks. It was a tale of going up the first week, and then struggling to come back down this week. Last week was my birthday, and two days of celebration took its toll. Because it was the day after my birthday, I decided to use my birthday prerogative and skip recording last week. Let's just say I was up considerably last Thursday.

Fortunately, what went up then came down, as I got back to the business of not eating quite so terribly. After a short period of entente with McDonald's, I bid it farewell again, already seeing dividends of doing so. I (gasp) might even start incorporating vegetables again to my diet.

Circumstances these past couple of weeks have left me unable to do any hiking, which is a shame because the weather has been mostly gorgeous the past couple of weeks. Still, we inch closer to the cooler temperatures of September, and the beginning of my fall hiking season. Here's hoping that I'll be back out on those trails.

Andrew

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Journey: Still Up

Dates: August 2 to August 8

Weight Change (Period): +2.6 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -19.4 lbs

So, yeah, I went up this week. However, I'm not too concerned about that fact. Considering the week before I had apparently lost about 12 pounds, actually gaining back a bit of the weight reassures me that there wasn't something wrong.

Still, it could have been a better week. I could have used more exercise, and again I can't say I did very well in the whole nutrition thing. All I can say to that is I can improve, and will attempt to this week. I did keep up my no potato chip ban, which has actually been surprisingly easy to do.

As summer winds down, it will be time for the fall hiking season. While I don't expect a result like last week from subsequent hikes, I can't imagine that it will hurt either. We'll see how things go.

Andrew

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hiking the Mingo Lake Trail

ONE MILE? ONE FREAKING MILE? AFTER ALL OF THAT WALKING UP AND DOWN AND ALL AROUND ONE DAMN MILE?

These were the thoughts going through my mind as I reached the 2 mile marker on the Lake Mingo trail. I could have sworn that I was at least three or four miles through it. After all, I had gone down to and back up from several bridges, so I had to be about halfway, right? I mean, I had walked through a field as a storm brewed, so that HAD to count for something. Or, I guess not. Here, as I realized there were five more miles I started to wonder if I had made the right decision.

Oh sure, it wasn't like the trail was all that hard. After all, it was a trail smack in the middle of Vermilion County. The ups and downs were fairly short, and large sections of the trail were flat, including most of the last mile and a half. The temperature was not as rough as the previous week (only up to 90 instead of around 100), and being in the shade for most of the walk it would be even nicer. Were I in normal walking shape it wouldn't have been much of a thing.

However I was far from normal walking condition. This was my first major walk since I had fallen a few weeks earlier. Although the ups and downs were short, they were fairly steep. I wasn't certain how my knee would take the trail even on the flat parts, let alone the downhill. I had my trekking poles, however, and I vowed to take the ups and downs as slow as I needed to so I could finish the trail. Nevertheless, I was worried every time I took a step down, as the trail had no waterbars or stairs.

On top of that I was not feeling the best. In fact, that morning I had considered not hiking at all. However as I got closer to Kennekuk, I began to feel better. Maybe the greasy fast food breakfast had helped (saving its wrath for when I'd be on the trail), or maybe I just started to wake up. Of course, that couldn't be it, because I hadn't gone to sleep yet.

For whatever reason I thought it would be a hoot to go out and hike my first hike greater than five miles in over a year just three weeks after I had fallen and hurt my knee. While I was sick. And without having slept the previous night. Yep, this had success written all over it.

Still, as I packed my day pack, I felt encouraged. I had plenty of water, and several snacks. I had a map of the trail and I had my phone with exercise tracking app, so I was all set for the walk. At the start sign, I extended my trekking poles and got started.

At about 0.7 miles I checked my phone. Sure, my pace was going ok, and finding out I had only walked that far was a bit discouraging. However, what was of more importance was that my battery was going dead. Prudence told me to turn my phone off, in case I needed that battery power for an emergency. So there went my progress meter. But at least I had the map, eh?

Close to mile marker one was when I realized that I had left the map folded up in the front seat of my car. Sure, the map wasn't the most detailed, but it definitely would have given me an idea of my progress. Fortunately, save for a couple places, the trail was easy to follow. It wasn't like I would be without he ability to find my way around the trail, I just wouldn't know my progress outside of the mile markers on the trail.

Amazingly, it rained several times while I was walking on the trail.* It also thundered a few times, so I was a bit worried about lightning as I had to walk through the edge of a prairie before heading back into the woods. Once back into the woods I stopped for a break to let the rain pass. Eventually, though, I started out, muttering the old saw about "You can't get to Maine if you don't walk in the rain." Of course, I wasn't going to Maine, just back around to my car in the parking lot.

I have to admit that most of the first two miles were pretty nice. My energy was at its apex, I was enjoying the walking, and there were benches to stop and rest every so often. I had assumed that benches would be placed all around the trail. Miles 3-6 would disabuse me of this notion.

The middle miles (3-5) were by far the toughest for me. My energy was waning, even with the snacks I ate. The only actual seating I found was a picnic table at the edge of the lake. It was a nice break, but it was out in the sun. At a couple points I had to just sit down on the trail. This had been a nervous proposition for me, as I wasn't quite certain what my knee was going to do. Fortunately it made it through both sitting down and standing up. I didn't really want to take so many breaks, but the lack of sleep, lingering sickness, and just plain being out of shape kind of forced me into it.

Probably the most miserable part of the trail was around an area called Lookout Point. I took a short spur trail out to the point. I did so hoping there would be a bench, considering it was a place that was notable enough to have a spur trail. Of course there was no bench, so I had wasted that energy. Sure, it let you lookout on the lake, but mainly to show me how much I still had left to go around. It was a bit discouraging.

It was around here that I vowed to make it back around, no matter how much effort it would take. I counted steps, taking breaks at regular intervals. It was taking plenty of time (about an hour a mile), but I was getting there. Between miles five and six, I took a marked shortcut, rationalizing that it made up for Lookout Point. Shortly after that I went up an incline, and hit an intersection with another trail. As I made the turn left, I could see the trail was wider. I guessed (correctly) that I had reached the easy part of the trail.

Still, I had a mile and a half to go, including a part where I had to walk over the dam that makes Lake Mingo a lake. It was a flat walk on gravel, but it was in the sun. I was tentative because I had just come the closest to falling down right before that. Fortunately my trekking poles had done their job, and I was no worse for the wear. Despite the glaring sun I put one foot in front of the other and made it across. A short walk up from the dam, and I spotted it. It was a bench, so glorious in its existence.

It was here on this bench where it all became worth it. Right there on that bench overlooking the lake the breeze picked up, to the point where it was almost chilly. I occasionally dozed off, only for a few seconds at a time. Still, it was peaceful and it was enjoyable. I was all alone**, so I had nature to myself. Sure, it wasn't as wild and scenic as say Yellowstone or Yosemite. But for that moment, I had walked into nature, and I was enjoying it.

I still had about a mile or so left to go, but that last break by the lake was the real climax of the hike. The rest was just road walking and a walk along a grass pathway through Bunkertown, the little collection of historical buildings at Kennekuk. As I passed mile marker seven, I could almost see my car. No, not in a figurative sense, I could actually literally see it. The last segment of the trail walked on the edge of a large grassy area, the other side of which was the parking lot where my car was. I thought about cutting across to it, but instead I stuck it out, walking back to the start sign. I had made it.

Sure, it had taken me over seven hours to walk the 7.3 mile trail, about twice as long as a typical hiker should take it. But given the conditions and my circumstances, I'm just glad I persevered. That trail was the longest I had hiked since I had tackled the eleven mile Cade's Cove Loop Road in November 2010. It had shown me that I can still hike (relatively) long distances, and that I can accomplish things. All in all, it was miserable, it was sweaty, it was tiring, and it was absolutely a blast. I can't wait for the next trail.

*For those reading this far in the future, the summer of 2012 was an incredibly bad drought for central Illinois. Hopefully you are getting more rain in the future, and this has not become a new normal for the area. If so, I hope you are enjoying the Great Illinois Desert.

**Other than a family fishing by the lake near the dam and a few cars as I walked back along the road towards the final part of the trail, I didn't meet anybody on the trail.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Journey: Whaa??

Dates: July 26 to August 1

Weight Change (Period): -12.8 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -22.0 lbs

Sometimes I wonder what (if any) margin of error my scale has. For instance, I kind of wonder if it was a bit high last week. The reason I wonder is because this week certainly seems far too low. It just doesn't seem likely that I've lost 12.8 pounds in one week.

Granted, I did take a 7.3 mile hike during this period*. However, I took almost seven hours to do it, so it wasn't like I was tearing through the forest. Also, it was the only bit of exercising I did during the week, other than a WiiSit session last night.

It wasn't like I did very well in the eating department, once again failing to adhere, or even create, a menu for the week. I suppose I didn't eat as much as I had the previous week. I've kept up my potato chip ban for the most part, other than a few chips I ate at a party Saturday evening. As it was a special occasion, I don't feel too bad about it, although the fact that my ban completely slipped my mind until after I had eaten them is a bit disappointing.

Anyway, we'll have to see how this week goes. I won't feel too bad if next week ends up with a increase instead of a decrease. On the other hand, if I have another decrease like this week, I'm going to be worried something is going on. Stay tuned...

Andrew

*Keep an eye out for this account, coming in the next few days!

Walking Along the AT: Fontana Dam

Date: March 27, 2012
Direction: NOBO, then SOBO
Distance: ~1 mile round trip
Start (NOBO): Fontana Dam Visitors Center
End (NOBO): Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River is the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. Sitting on the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is a stunning sight, sitting high above the river valley below it. The lake behind it, Fontana Dam, is a popular lake for fishing and boating. For me, however, it is most important as the entrance of the Appalachian Trail into the Smokies.

Like Hot Springs, the walk at Fontana was both mostly flat and fairly short. For most of the way I walked on the raised sidewalk next to the roadway on top of the dam. On the way across I walked on the lake side and enjoyed the view of the Smokies rising up behind the lake. Before long I had crossed the dam and walked into the grass towards the sign marking the entrance to the National Park. Had I continued, I would have walked along a road for a while, before returning to the trail and a hell of a climb up the ridge line of the Smokies. As tempting as that was, I found it much more prudent to turn around. Making a several thousand foot climb on a whim with few supplies was not a recipe for success.* Instead I walked back across, this time on the side of the dam wall. From here I got a view of the high peaks on the south side of the dam, which were close to where the AT had come from.

A short walk from the Visitors Center at Fontana Dam is a shelter known as the "Fontana Hilton". It is called this because of its proximity to actual bathrooms, showers, and a resort complete with buffet. On a previous visit I walked along the effective path of the AT from a parking lot towards the shelter. I saw it in the distance, but did not approach because I wanted to let the hiker there do what they were doing in peace. The close bathrooms were locked at that time, but it was still winter time, and thus not peak hiker season.

I've actually had the fortune of seeing the AT at its western entrance to GSMNP at Fontana, and its eastern exit at Davenport Gap. As I've seen its crossing of US 441 at Newfound Gap many times, I suppose you can say I've seen both ends and the middle of this memorable section of the AT. However, I still have almost the entire 70 mile stretch yet to actually experience IN the park. This is something I hope to rectify, preferably sooner than later.

Next Week: I walk up to Round Bald, and marvel at the majesty that are the Roan Highlands.

Fontana Dam



*Besides, I had to make it to Wayah Bald before sundown. By going there, I was able to experience sunset atop one of the great panoramic views along the Appalachian Trail, as well as meet a few honest to god thru-hikers. And all it took was a few miles of bumpy driving, and an embarrassingly short walked up a paved trail (most of which was the AT).

Friday, July 27, 2012

Walking the AT: Hot Springs, NC

Date: October 30, 2011
Direction: SOBO, then NOBO
Distance: 0.7 miles out and back
Start (SOBO): Downtown Hot Springs by the French Broad bridge
End (SOBO): AT Crossing of NC 206


Not every walk I have taken on the AT has been as arduous or as long as the walk up Blood Mountain. In fact, once I had actually figured the distance I walked in Hot Springs, it was shorter than I remembered it. Honestly it wasn't long enough to keep in here, considering I threw out a walk along the AT at Newfound Gap that was almost as long. However, I decided to allow it because a) I can and b) it was my one and only walk through a trail town.

Other than maybe Fontana, the walk through Hot Springs was the flattest of my walks. There was a slight rise from the river to the crosswalk on the edge of town, but nothing too arduous. Of course, not too far past where I started and turned around you would be ascending rather quickly.

The most interesting part of the walk was the fact that the AT symbol was put into the sidewalk at regular intervals. I didn't stop at any of the store or restaurants, as I was in a hurry (I had to return to IL that night). However, it looked like it would be a nice town to visit. Despite walking through a town, I actually did see some wildlife, as a very fat groundhog ran for cover under the porch of one of the houses.

Although the Appalachian Trail spends most of its time in the wilds of the Appalachian Ridge line, it does travel through or near several towns. There are a few "trail towns" to the south, such as Franklin, NC and Hiawassee, GA, but these require either a shuttle or a hitch to reach. Hot Springs is the first town that you reach going NOBO that is actually on the trail. If you were to continue, you'd run into several other towns, such as Damascus, VA, Duncannon, PA, and Hanover, NH. Probably the most well known (to those who aren't Ivy Leaguers, at least) is Harper's Ferry, WV, which is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I'll have more to say about this trail town in #7 of this series.

A town day is one of those tangible goals that send many a thru-hiker barreling down the trail. The thought of good, hot food, clean laundry, and perhaps even a warm bed is a major incentive to them. Walking back I could imagine how it must feel to them to finally have ended that decline into town, and see the beckoning signs of restaurants, stores, and a post office. Perhaps they'd just spend a few hours in town, recharging before making that climb back up, or maybe they'd take the rest of the day off, and tomorrow as well, giving themselves an actually zero day. For some, that zero day might even become a zero week, or even the end of their trip. Perhaps some day I'll be making that decision for a nero, a zero, or just a short stop. My first visit instead ended with me getting in my car and heading off on a long drive back to IL.

Next week: Another flat trip, this time over the highest dam east of the Rockies.

*I've driven through Damascus twice, as well as Erwin, TN once. Erwin technically isn't on the trail, but the extreme southern edge of town does brush up against the trail as it crosses a river.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Journey: Hmm....

Dates: July 19 to July 25

Weight Change (Period): +3.0 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -9.2 lbs

What can I say? This is definitely a reversal of fortune, after the last two weeks as seen decent progress. I can't point to any one reason why this happened, although I suppose I maybe ate more than I thought this past week.

The menu worked for about three days, before events popped up that kind of threw a wrench in my ability to plan meals. Had I been doing it for several weeks, I figure I would have had the discipline to adapt the plan. This was the first week, however, so it was far too easy to stray. We'll see how this week goes.

On the positive side I was able to stay away from chips. In fact, I barely missed them. Also, I walked a dirt trail with small hills and everything, a first since I fell a few weeks ago. The next day I followed that up by walking down and up seventy stairs at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. It wasn't exactly Amicalola or anything, but it was a start. Weather should be nicer this weekend, so I'm thinking about trying to hike sometime either Saturday or Sunday.

As discouraging as that number is, it would have been wrong for me not to have shared it. All I can do is look at that and recommit myself to not repeating next week. I've done it before, I'm sure I can do it again.


Andrew

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Journey: I Can't Only Eat Just One

Dates: July 12 to July 18

Weight Change (Period): -1.8 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -12.2 lbs

Well, another week, and another net loss. I chalk it up mainly to an increase in exercise. Most of exercise was of the WiiSit variety (with the bicycle and boxing exercises creating most of the activity), but I did do some walking in place and some strength exercises while I watched Breaking Bad. Had I not enjoyed so many chips that week, my loss would have likely been better. Outside of chips, though, I think I did ok as far as eating is concerned.

I have to admit I kind of splurged on chips the past week, mainly because I knew what was going to happen come today. After the success of my McDonald's ban, I decided I would try a month without chips, and see how that goes. As much as I like them, I think I'll be able to get along without them. Besides, without chips I won't be eating dip, which just helps out there as well.

It's not a full potato ban. I figure I might eat a baked potato here and there, and I don't eat fries regularly enough (since McDonald's is out anyway) that they aren't a big deal. I suppose I won't buy any tater-tots or fries to fix at home, but it isn't like I do that a lot anyway. I also will be cutting potatoes out of breakfast, when I eat it out. By accident I didn't order potatoes with my omelet one day, and I found that I didn't need them anyway.

I'm not a big believer in permanent bans on certain foods. In my mind, if you ban something entirely, you are less likely to follow your regimen. Ideally I'd like to reach a point where I can have a Big Mac once in a while, but I can't have one every other day, or even every other week. These month long bans are more like experiments to see how well I function without them. So far the first experiment is going well, to the point that I'll probably just continue it another month.

Besides extending my experiment to potatoes, I also am trying to introduce planning of menus for my meals. The idea behind this is if I plan my meals, I won't be tempted to just get something quick and unhealthy. So far I've succeeded in following through on lunch, and am currently in the process of following my dinner menu. I'll let you know next week how well this goes.

-Andrew

Walking along the AT #2: Blood Mountain

Date: March 12, 2011
Direction: SOBO Up, NOBO down
Distance: 1.5 miles one way, 3.0 round trip On AT (2.2/4.4 Total)
Start (SOBO): Flat Rock Gap on AT (Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Parking Lot Actual)
End (SOBO): Blood Mountain Summit

View from Blood Mountain summit

Of the seven short hikes I've made along the Appalachian Trail, the hike of Blood Mountain was by far the most difficult. Fortunately, I was in the best shape in a few years when I did this hike. Unfortunately, I still was in pretty sorry shape, as the frequent breaks going up the mountain would show.

The hike up Blood Mountain was part two of a two-day trip in Northern Georgia for my sister and I. The previous day we had hiked the beginning of the AT approach trail from the Amicalola State Park Visitors Center up to the top of the falls, and then back down along the old approach trail. It had been a beautiful hike, punctuated by the 600 stairs we had to walk to the top. After our adventure at Amicalola we had driven around through the North Georgia Mountains. At this point I hadn't quite decided where exactly we would walk on Sunday, but by the time we had checked into our hotel at Blue Ridge, Georgia, Blood Mountain was the leading candidate. It had the virtue of being fairly close to get to from Blue Ridge, relatively easy accessibility from the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial, and a certain amount of status, as Blood Mountain is the highest point along the AT in Georgia.

Therefore the next morning we set out for Blood Mountain. But first we had to make a stop at the Walasi-Yi Center in Neels Gap. For most hikers along the AT this is the first resupply point. It's also the only place where the AT effectively goes through a building, and a place known for its pack shakedowns. As we were not thru-hikers, we were merely visiting as curious wannabes, taking a look at the various equipment and supplies that they had to offer. At this point I had never been in a real outfitter store before, not even an REI or something like that. It was interesting to see all the various stuff they had in there, most of which I had just read about at this point.

After we had spent some time looking around, and Erin seriously investigated some of the sleeping bags they had, we decided that we had stalled long enough and headed back down the mountain a bit to the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial. This is the primary parking lot for day hikers on Blood Mountain, as the Walasi-Yi parking lot is only for customers and for a very short amount of time. There were two ways to get from the memorial lot to the AT: walk up the road to Neels Gap, or take the connector trail from the lot to the AT at Flatrock Gap. As we were going to the summit, it would up all the way.

After a short period on the trail where it was mostly flat, we finally hit some switchbacks, and it was time for the climb. It was here where I felt the more common other side of my hike up Springer Mountain, as I was the slow one of the group. I could tell Erin was getting impatient with my frequent stops, but I had to make them if I were going to get up that hill. Frankly I felt she was pushing me a bit too far, but after a while I set in to a method of counting my steps, and pushing myself to take 10-20 more each time before I took a break.

Finally, after a particularly steep climb we made it to Flatrock gap, the site of our first major break. I hadn't been sure of how far it was to the top of Blood Mountain before we got there, and found out it was 1.5 miles from the gap to the summit. This sounded about right, so we committed to the summit. Had it been more than two miles one way, we likely would have chosen another alternative, perhaps walking the AT back to Neels Gap.

After a much too short flat section, we began climbing again. Unlike most of the connector, however, this was much rockier. If it wasn't going up switchbacks, it was going over stone steps carved out of the side of the mountain. Getting my heavy legs up those steps was a chore, but I made it through them. By this point my energy was somewhat shot. However, I figured it was okay, because we had made the summit. I mean, it was rocky, and there were open vistas, so it had to be near the top, right?

Well, Erin went ahead to scout this out, as I slowly puttered along the trail. Very quickly we discovered that the first clearing was a false summit, as a short and steep section up through more trees showed us. Then we climbed up the face of a boulder, and there was still more summit above. Finally Erin had reached the summit, and came back down to where I was muddling along to lead me there. After several false summits the trail leveled off as well as the ridge, and I knew we were finally there. The USGS marker placed into the rock confirmed this as well.

I sat there and drank water, eating a couple snacks I had brought along. The view was pretty impressive, although it was mainly of more wooden mountains, so there was little in the way of distinctive landmarks. We took a few pictures, conversed briefly with a few other hikers (it was a very busy day with plenty of hikers), and resolved to head down. I would have enjoyed sitting up there a while longer, but other people deserved their chance to sit at the summit, and Erin was getting very impatient.

I think I must have skimped on breakfast, and made the mistake of not getting lunch, because on the way down I felt a bit drained of energy. Also, we both made the mistake of drinking too much water going up. Fortunately it was a cool March day, or that could have been a bigger issue. As it was, it took a fair amount of effort for me to navigate back down the stairs and switchbacks.

As we reached Flatrock Gap, I felt that I had to get some water to keep me going. Fortunately there was a stream just below the gap with flowing water. I filled my bottle up, making sure it was in a rockier area that was flowing briskly and not a more lethargic area of the stream. Still, I knew it was a gamble, as we did not have any method to treat it. It tasted fine, and it certainly rejuvenated me to an extent. It was enough to get back down the trail to the car.

Besides a need to get water, the biggest thing I noticed coming down were the people carrying packs. I had read up enough on thru-hikers to know that these people we saw were not them, or at least not ones likely to succeed. They carried gigantic packs that made them look like they were on some expedition to the arctic. As we talked to a few of them, we discovered they were just college kids out hiking a few days on their break. I suppose when you are only out there for a few days, you can deal with a pack full of unnecessary stuff.

After navigating down another set of switchbacks, I recognized we were back on the relatively flat section that followed the stream I had drank from. My spirits picked up at this point, even if my feet were protesting. We headed back through the path cut through the rhododendron and finally made it back to the sign at the entrance of the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Shortly thereafter we saw the car, and thus the end of the hike.

The hike up to Blood Mountain was then and still is the largest single incline I've ever walked. It was over twice the incline of our hike up to the top of Amicalola Falls. It was exhausting, at times infuriating, and at times a bit discouraging. However, for as much bitching as I may have done, I know I truly enjoyed, much more than the things I usually am doing in front a computer during the week. When we went back up to Walasi-Yi to get celebratory soft drinks, I felt a rush of excitement. I had walked up to freaking Blood Mountain. Although that unfortunately was the peak of my hiking achievements in 2011*, it's not too shabby.

Next Week: Andrew walks the length of the trail through Hot Springs, the first town right on the NOBO trail.

*A couple weeks after the hike I got an infection of some sort that seriously kicked my ass. I'm not sure it had anything to do with the water I took from the trail or not. The usual result from bad water was kind of the opposite of whatever I went through. I tried coming back from it too soon on a short hike from Cravens House on Lookout Mountain and that scared me off any real hikes. In fact, it wasn't until about a year later I made a hike of any real incline or distance.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the Trail: Limberlost

Limberlost Trail
Shenandoah National Park
Virginia


Distance: 1.3 Miles (loop)
Difficulty: Easy

Bridge along the Limberlost trail

Shenadoah National Park stretches for about 100 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Virginia. It's a park that can be experienced quite well by car, as the scene Skyline drive winds from Front Royal, Virginia to Rockfish Gap, where it becomes the much longer scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. There are many overlooks, as well as plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, such as deer, groundhogs, and even bear.

However, the park is also a great place to take a hike. From short to long and easy to difficult, there are plenty of opportunities for people of all ages, shapes, and walking abilities. If you wish, you can even hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which winds along close to the route of Skyline Drive throughout most of the park.

However, if Old Rag or Hawksbill Mountains are just a bit above your skill level, there is the Limberlost trail. Most of it is somewhat handicapped accessible*, and although it isn't level, the inclines and declines are fairly easy. For example, I was able to go up the entirety of the climb without more than a couple stops to take pictures and drink some water.

We only met one person while on the trail, so it was a very peaceful walk. We didn't see any bears, although we were certain there had to be some out there. Perhaps there were a few looking at us from the steep hillsides around, or even up in the trees. As usual on about every trail I've ever walked, there were squirrels to be seen, and birds to be heard.

If you are looking for a challenge, or scenic mountain vistas, you will need to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if all you are looking for is a tranquil, refreshing leg stretcher on your way between I-64 and Front Royal, this is a great option. The day we walked the trail was warm and humid even up in the higher elevations of Shenandoah. However, the Limberlost trail was pleasant, shaded by the tall trees and cooled by a slight breeze. Had it been in the sun, or had we been at a lower elevation, it unlikely would have been as pleasant of a walk.**

The diversity in hiking opportunities at Shenandoah is one of its best features. The next time I am back in the park, I hope to try one of the longer and more challenging walks. However, I may make time to take a stroll along old Limberlost as well, particularly if I am in the park for more than one day. There are several benches along the length of the trail, making it a great place to have a snack, read a book, or just revel in nature. For those with small children, those with limited time in the park, or those who aren't quite ready for rock scrambling, I highly recommend it.

*According to the NPS site for Shenandoah, there are plans to bring it up to the most current ADA standards. The first part we walked in June 2012 would be accessible, but the second half was less likely to be accessible for wheelchairs or people with severe walking limitations.
**See my upcoming recollection of the AT walk through Harpers Ferry for a much warmer and less refreshed experience.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Walking along the AT #1: Springer Mountain (UPDATED)




Though we haven't yet taken the big walk from Georgia to Maine, we've been fortunate to have had several opportunities to walk portions of the trail. All in all, I've walked six seven segments ranging from about one mile to two and a half miles, and Erin has walked three of them.* The sections we've walked range from effectively flat to an 1800 foot gain in elevation (counting the walk up from the parking lot near Blood Mountain).

Over the next six seven weeks or so, I'll be sharing my memories of each section**. Although there was plenty of sweat and struggling, every one was enjoyable because I was on the AT. Hopefully within the next couple years, we'll be adding much much more about our experiences on the trail, but I certainly anticipate adding more posts to this feature. As I'll be going through this in chronological order, I'll start with my first experience of the trail. Interestingly enough, that would be Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Date: February 20, 2011
Direction: SOBO Up, NOBO down
Distance: 0.9 miles one way, 1.8 round trip
Start (SOBO): USFS 42 Parking Lot
End (SOBO): Springer Mountain Summit and the last white blaze.

Of the six walks I've taken on the trail, this one is the most memorable for three reasons. For one, it was the first time I had walked the trail for any appreciable distance. Also, it was Springer Mountain, where the trail begins for those going north, and ends for those going south. This wasn't exactly some indeterminate section in the middle of nowhere. Finally, it was special because I walked it with my parents.

Honestly, I hadn't thought about going up there when they first came to visit that weekend. However, as we were at dinner, we were discussing what to do. I suggested we go visit Amicalola Falls. As we talked about that, I remembered the fact that there is a parking lot for hikers less than a mile from the Springer summit. Although it would be six miles up a rough USFS road, we had my parents SUV, so it wouldn't be too bad. With their assent, we decided to get up the next morning and make the drive from Chattanooga to Springer Mountain.

After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Dalton, and the drive through the mountains from Chatsworth to Ellijay, we found ourselves on the road to both of our destinations. For several miles we were on the main Georgia highway, but well before Amicalola we made a left turn, and were on a less traveled, but still paved road. After about thirteen miles or so of this, we made a right turn onto a rocky road. This was the road that would take us to the parking lot and our trail head.

The road was only six miles or so, but it felt like twenty. It was bumpy, it was steep, and it was rarely straight. Finally we arrived at the pass where the parking lot was, and found a spot. As it was a nice day, there were several cars there, but the lot wasn't full. Some people were preparing their own hikes, either up to Springer or along the trail to the north. While we were unloading from the SUV and getting prepped for the hike, some cars approached from the opposite direction on the road from where we came. As that is the way to the lot from Dahlonega (and ultimately Atlanta), I would guess this is the more popular route to the lot.

Finally we had packed a few snacks and our bottles of water, and crossed the road. Almost immediately we were walking uphill. For the first part of the hike, the trail was dirt and not too steep. As we went along, though, it became rockier and a bit steeper. All in all it wasn't too bad, and nowhere as tough as going SOBO up Blood Mountain (my second AT adventure). Due to a stretch where I had stayed disciplined in my exercising, I was in the best shape in years at the time. Oddly enough that put me in a position where I was having to ease off a bit so I wouldn't get too far ahead of my parents. That being said, I did plenty of huffing and puffing going up that trail.

Despite being February, the weather was pleasant if a bit crisp. The leaves had yet to start budding, so we had views out to the terrain around us. Although not exactly stunning, it was still great to see mountains, and interesting to get a better idea of how the land actually was contoured.

Gradually the ridgeline to our left kept getting closer and closer. Finally, we came up to a fork in the trail where a short blue blazed section went off to the shelter, privy, spring and campsites adjacent to the summit. By now I knew we were close to our goal. The trail had leveled off, and we walked through the trees out to a rocky clearing. We had arrived at the top of Springer Mountain.

Naturally we took the obligatory pictures, including the one of the plaque and first blaze seen above. We stood there for a while admiring the view, and chatted with a couple of hikers who had walked the approach trail from Amicalola. There were a few people around who looked like thru hikers, although I never did verify this (I'm not one to just approach and talk to someone I don't know). I'm sure at least a couple were thru hikers, although it was still a few weeks before the peak start season would begin. I can't say about my parents, but it was tough for me to not just start walking north beyond the parking lot, all the way to Maine if I could. I fought that urge as I ate a snack cake and drank some water, looking out over the mountains of northern Georgia.

Finally we had to start back the other way, as we wanted to also visit Amicalola before it got dark. On the way out we took the blue blazed side trail to the shelter, so we could see the first shelter along the actual trail. We also took a look at the bear bag wires and the water source, a spring bubbling pleasantly just a short walk from the shelter.

A quick bathroom break later, we were heading back down the trail. The good thing was that it was all downhill, so there was less huffing and puffing. The bad thing was that it was all downhill, so I was being extra cautious around the rocks and roots. Still, we made it down at a fair clip, passing several people, some with dogs and little kids, heading up the hillside. Before long we were back down to the parking lot, and it took a bit of effort to keep me from being a damn fool and continue on up that trail on the other side of the parking lot. Instead we got back in the SUV, and headed back down that bumpy road.

All in all it was a fun hike, made all the better because I shared it with family. I think my parents enjoyed the trip, and were glad they did it. I know for a fact I did. Here's hoping that either March 2013 or March 2014 I will be heading back up there, this time for a much longer walk.

Next Up: Andrew and Erin hike to the top of Blood Mountain.


***UPDATED*** 07/14/2012: Somehow I forgot completely about my short hike up to Round Bald near Roan Mountain, which was along the AT. I'm not sure why I forgot it, as it was one of my favorite places I've ever walked. I've edited the references from six to seven to account for this.

*This doesn't count the 1/4 mile I walked NOBO at Newfound Gap in the Smokies, a 200 ft section we walked NOBO in Shenandoah this past June, or a small section I walked up to Wayah Bald. I mean, the path was paved, and it was less than 1/4 mile from the parking lot. We also walked the beginning of the approach trail NOBO from the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitors Center to the top of the falls. Yep, all 625 steps in one walk. We've got shirts to prove it and everything!

**If we're really luck, and all cheer in unison, Erin might even emerge and share some of her recollections as well. With me, everyone: YOU CAN DO IT ERIN! YOU CAN DO IT ERIN! YOU CAN DO IT ERIN!

The Journey: A good week

Dates: July 5 to July 11

Weight Change (Period): -4.0 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -10.4 lbs

So I guess getting rid of McDonald's is working out pretty well, eh? Granted, I've not given up all fast food (just the Golden Arches and a few of the other most egregious offenders), but that has to have helped. I've only done the one walk (detailed in my previous post), and a couple of "WiiSit" sessions. Honestly I think it comes down to a cut in the calories of taken in, and a few good decisions here and there.

I doubt that I can keep this rate up week in and week out. If I only lose a small amount in the upcoming week, it will be a bit of a letdown, but not much. After all, that would still make three weeks of decrease in a row.

I guess if I started with giving up McDonald's, I can move on to making a different change this week. Perhaps I'll add one more vegetable per day, or commit to eat nothing after 8:00 pm. Whatever it is, I'm sure I can do it, and help me continue on the straight and narrow. Which is good, because as experience has taught me, this path is as narrow as a knife's edge atop a ridgeline.

Andrew

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Getting Back on the Trail

As mentioned in last week's "The Journey", I fell down while taking a walk nine days ago. In the eight days since, I haven't attempted a walk of any distance beyond going from a car to a house, movie theater, restaurant, or store. That all changed today.

Sure, the walk wasn't long, only a bit longer than a mile. It wasn't particularly strenuous either, just a few times around the Beech Grove trail at Forest Glen. Except for a short jaunt down a grassy path to reach over a mile, the path was paved, mostly level, and dry. All in all, it was more of a stroll than a hike. However, it was a start.

Quite frankly, once I had verified my ankle and knee hadn't been seriously injured in the fall, the biggest issue I faced was mental. Several times over the next week I would catch my self reliving the moment when my ankle did that double roll thing, and it would make me shiver. At times I wasn't sure if I could get myself to walk to my mailbox, let alone a full mile, or the miles in a day's worth of hiking.

Nonetheless, I did it. Was I over worrying about it happening again? Hell no, I evaluated every step my right leg made, ever cautious in case it did it's rolling thing again. Nonetheless, I still found enjoyment in walking in the shade and hearing the birds chirp and sing. I even took pleasure in the sweat from the exertion in the July warmth. Short and easy though the trip was, it was good to be back.

At one point I needed to take a quick walk to get in at over a mile. I could have chosen to walk up the parking lot road to the main road and back. Instead I chose a short grass path through trees between the parking lot and a nearby open area. I approached it gingerly, as there were mole tunnels all around. At one point I almost detoured back to the paved area, but I instead plowed forward. Sure, it was a short jaunt on non-paved ground, but it felt good to walk on something approximating a real trail.

All in all, it was a very small step back, but also a good one. I'm still hesitant about doing any sort of significant distance or elevation change, but I know I'll get there. I have faith that I will because I like doing this, and because it gives me pleasure and calms my nerves. And if I fall down again, or if I have other mishaps or obstacles in my way, I know I can get over them. I can't say I'll be going out and hiking twenty miles tomorrow or anything, but at least I'm confident I can start working my way to there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

My (not really unfounded) worries #2: Falling Down

As mentioned in the most recent edition of The Journey, I tend to find creative ways at falling*. That scary piece of falling was the second time in about a month that I've fallen while walking. The other time was an even scarier, although ultimately less painful, fall on the Appalachian Trail at Grayson Highlands.

I can't recall why I fell. I assume one of those blasted rocks that are on the trail tripped me up, and I was unable to keep from falling forward. I think my trekking poles may helped me fall a bit more graceful, going straight forward instead of bending back or going sideways (both terrible things for my knees). From the reaction of Erin, and the fact I ended up flat on the ground, it didn't look pretty. Fortunately all that happened was a ugly bruise just below my knee. It was the first time I've fallen on a trail since another harmless fall at Unicoi Bottoms State Park in Georgia, not counting a slightly less harmless fall on a slippery boardwalk in the Okefenokee Swamp. It was also the first time I've ever fallen on the AT.

Honestly, unlike worrying about weather, or snakes, or pooping outdoors, this is something that legitimately worries me. I'm not even talking about chronic stress on my knees, which is another issue I'll have to deal with entirely. I'm just talking about trips and falls.

I guess my worries boil down to four types of falls, of varying worries. The first type is losing my balance and falling either forward or backwards on the trail. This is the kind of fall that could ultimately be the worst (falling off the side of cliff never is a good thing), but also the one that least worries me. Perhaps it is just the increased perception that usually comes when you are put in a somewhat dangerous situation, but I just don't worry about this.

The next type of fall is related to roots and rocks. Obviously this is something to worry about on trails such as the AT, as most of its distance is this (when it isn't crazy boulder hopping or walking through trail towns). Considering I've only ever fallen a few times, despite many stumbles, I don't really get worried about this. However, I do tend to slow down when the rocks and roots get numerous. As long I stay careful, this won't be a big issue.

The third type that worries me are slick conditions. Whether because of ice, snow, mud, slick rock, or a combination of all of these, it does make me worried. I've had a tendency to find the slick spots before, falling many times on ice and mud. This isn't a worry at all if its a warm dry day. But if I am going to hike the AT, I'll be hiking through the Smokies during the last days of its winter. I suppose good shoes, careful steps, and some work on balance may help here. If all else fails, there's the safer, if less dignified method of sitting down and scooting down. Obviously this would only work in some instances.

The fourth, and most worrisome, type of fall comes courtesy of my eccentric right ankle. Granted, I walked the eleven miles in Cades Cove, 625 steps at Amicalola Falls, and up Blood Mountain without once having one of these horrible incidents. Rather, I'm more likely for this to happen on a gravel road, or possibly even a paved one. Even then, most times I'll catch myself before it rolls too much. However, the times it has caused me to spill have not been fun, and if it does give me trouble on the trail, the result could be disastrous.

I suppose the best way to prepare for this is to just wear shoes that will support that ankle. My hiking shoes tend to alleviate some of that, although they aren't high tops, so they don't help completely. As long as I tie them good and tight they have helped. I suppose I could look into taping up my ankle, or some other form of support. Although not directly helpful, I'm sure losing weight can't hurt. Working on improving my balance combined with using my trekking poles will also help.

In the end I can succumb to my fear of falling and do nothing, or fight through it. As long as I'm careful, I'm sure I can minimize my falls, as well as minimizing the damage when I do fall. Fighting through those fears is totally worth it. Just keep me away from those fallen walnuts.*

*Yes, I've tripped over a damn walnut before. As it has happened exactly once in 30 years, I can't say nut caused tripping is one of my true fears.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On the Trail: Big Woods Trail

On the Trail is an irregular series describing my various impressions of trails I have walked. Some will be short trails, some long, some magnificent, while others just a pleasant walk in the woods. Every one of them deserve some recognition. We start with a short walk through the western edge of the great eastern deciduous forest.

Big Woods Trail
Forest Glen Nature Preserve
Vermilion County, Illinois


I know I've talked about Forest Glen many times before, but I have to state again that it is a true treasure of Vermilion County. Nestled in the border zone between the great prairies of the Midwest and the deciduous forests of the East, it is a great place to commune with nature. There are many trails in the park, from the short paved Beech Grove Handicapped Trail to the 11 mile long River Ridge Backpack Trail. For Illinois, there is a surprising amount of ups and downs throughout the park.

The Big Woods Trail tends to the shorter, being less than a mile one way. However, in its short run in descends down to the streams at the bottom of ravines and ascends back up twice. It's a great workout, and the one trail in the park that best resembles ridge walking on the AT.

I would guess it is because of the large tulip, red oak, and beech trees that can be found along the trail. Most of the trees that grow here cannot be found farther west in Illinois, while they make up the bulk of the trees in the climax forests of the eastern United States. Thus you spend the majority of the trail walking below a high canopy, giving you a closer feel to the lower areas of the Smokies or the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. At several points along the trail the ground slopes down on both sides to streams below, really giving you a feel that you are walking atop a ridge. Even though you no more than 100 feet above the low points, and you never even get above 800 feet in elevation, it is the closest you can come to feeling like you are in mountains in central Illinois. Heck, in a couple places there are even rocks, a real rarity on a non stream-bed or moraine ridge trail in central Illinois.

The high canopy shields the trail from the harshness of the summer sun, and even on warm days the shade keeps you relatively cool. My most recent hike I didn't see many birds, but I could certainly hear them, from the little chickadees to the woodpeckers looking for food. It is highly unlikely you can walk this trail without seeing a deer or two, and often more. Otherwise, look for squirrels, chipmunks, and other mammals. There are a couple places where you get close to small streams (even crossing one over rocks at one point), so there are places where amphibians and reptiles roam as well.

There aren't too many dangers along the trail, as it is fairly easy trail (even an out of shape guy like me didn't have too many troubles). Watch your step going up and down, as there are some stairs that aren't too stable. Other than that, just the usual precautions such as watching for ticks and being careful when it is wet, muddy, or icy apply.

Unlike many trails in the park this one is one way, ending near the observation tower that stands overlooking the Vermilion River valley. It's a pretty impressive view atop the tower, although those with aversions to height or numerous steps might choose to skip it. A short, yet surprisingly steep, walk down the gravel path near the tower will take you to the Vermilion River. When you are ready to head back, you can walk back the way you came, or walk roads back to the parking lot. For my last hike I walked back part way along the road, then cut through on a small trail to the Backpack trail and walked it back to the Big Woods trail head. Another option would be walking roads back to the Beech Grove trail head, which has a connector trail between the paved trail and the Big Woods trail. Keep in mind that while the Big Woods trail is nice and shady, most of that road walk is in direct sunlight, which can be rather unpleasant during the summer. There is a seasonal water fountain at the Pine Knoll Picnic shelter, which will be along the road walk from the tower area.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Journey: Lurching Forward

Dates: June 28 to July 4

Weight Change (Period): -0.8 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -6.4 lbs

First off, the good news. Despite there being a holiday in this week, I actually lost weight. Considering I attended a party on Saturday and a cookout on the actual Independence Day, replete with the usual grilled meats, sweet treats, and cold beers, this counts as a minor miracle. I must say I am proud of my restraint yesterday, limiting my celebrations to one beer and one plate of food. Let us hope this is a trend.

Now the bad news. On Monday my daily walking came to a temporary halt. As we were turning towards home, my foot must have hit a irregularity in the road and my ankle did a little roll. I lurched forward, appearing to catch my balance. Unfortunately, my ankle disagreed with me on this, deciding to roll a second time. Unlike the first time, I had no hope of catching my balance again, this time falling over. The result was a sore ankle, a sore knee, and an ugly series of scrapes up half my leg. All of this happening on the leg that was just getting over my hellatious looking (yet not that damaging) fall on the AT at Grayson Highlands.

Fortunately, it doesn't appear that I did any permanent damage. I'm already moving much better, and I suppose I could get back to walking by next week. At least I can, assuming I can get myself to do it. It seems rather pathetic that I have to overcome a significant amount of trepidation just to walk a little more than one mile. Perhaps I just need an ankle support, or wear shoes with higher tops that can support the ankle.

Oddly, I'm not too worried about this affecting me while hiking. I've never had the issues with ankle rolling out on the trail as I do walking in the morning. Perhaps it is the shoes I wear (which aren't really ankle supporting), or even the socks. Perhaps I'm just more careful with my foot falls, or maybe my trekking poles help. Whatever it is, this isn't something I'm that worried about when I try to hike a long distance, such as the AT. Nonetheless I have to be able to walk on roads if I want to get some aerobic exercise in there. We'll just have to see how it goes.

Andrew



Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Journey: Going in Reverse

Dates: June 7 to June 27

Weight Change (Period): +2.6 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -5.6 lbs

When I started my journey to lose weight, I had hoped every post would be a steady march of positive results. However, I also understood that reversals would happen. Expecting them doesn't make them any less discouraging.

I had hoped that a week along the Blue Ridge (including a hike to the AT at Grayson Highlands and a walk up to the ATC Visitors Center in Harpers Ferry) would help out. After all, the bulk of my previous loss happened due to my trip out to Yosemite. Perhaps it did, and prevented my awful habits during the other two weeks of this period from making that number even worse.

Once again it comes down to my woeful eating habits. Far too often I find myself taking a trip up to McDonald's to get my meal, probably because it is too easy. It isn't that it takes a huge effort to fix a meal, particularly for one person. It is just that going through the drive-up is just that much easier. I just have to break that habit, there is no other way around it.

On the positive side, I am still down for the three months of this journey, so I can take some comfort in that. I've made a pledge to give up the Golden Arches for one month, just to see if that has any impact. Also, starting next week I'm going to plan my breakfast and dinner meals, as this will prevent me from relying upon the fast food crutch so much.

It appears we are now in the midst of our first real prolonged dangerously hot period here in Central Illinois. Unfortunately that means getting out and hiking or walking will be much less likely, as I really don't want to be out there in this heat. It isn't that I can't do it (it was plenty hot in Harpers Ferry, and we somehow made it up and down that damn hill), but that it becomes harder to do it. Looks like I'll have to break out my Wii Balance Board and bench and get some serious WiiSit* action in until cool weather comes back.

Finally I think I need to recommit myself to posting this every week. I admit I've let it slide to two or three week increments in an effort to catch up, or because I was away from my scale on Weigh-In Thursday. Doing this weekly is a way to keep me honest, and to keep me thinking of the overall bigger picture. I clearly stumbled these past three weeks, now the trick is getting back up and continuing on.

Andrew

*Due to me being larger than the max weight for the balance board, I engineered a compromise situation where I can still get some benefit from WiiFit by sitting on a tall bench with my feet on the board. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing, and has worked for me in the past. Of course, there are a couple of exercises (tricep extensions, and the jogging in place one) that I can do as it was intended.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hike at Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy was the last battle of John Muir's career, and was one of his few failures. In the end the powers that be in Washington and San Francisco were just too strong, and the dam went forward. Thus a valley Muir considered the equal of Yosemite itself became a reservoir.

The loss of Hetch Hetchy was not in vain. It helped spur the movement to create the National Park Service, and became a rallying cry for the environmental and conservation movements. Rivers such as the Yampa and Colorado have been protected and their beauty preserved for future generations because people did not want another Hetch Hetchy on their hands. Above all, it is s reminder that just as we can protect the unprotected, we also must be vigilant in preserving what we have already protected.

Despite the controversy, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and its surrounding area is a beautiful place to take a walk. Located in a remote area far from the crowded Yosemite Valley, you can be assured you'll have plenty of solitude on the trails. During our 2+ mile walk, we only met a handful of people. As such, you can get lost in your thoughts.

Most of the park surrounding the dam is a designated wilderness area, and except for our walk across the dam and through the tunnel next to it was the site of our hike. We didn't go too far, turning around at a panoramic boulder strewn view of the mountains and reservoir. In the process we saw a few waterfalls, at least one of which likely would disappear as the dry summer crept along. It wasn't a taxing hike, with only a couple inclines that only flummoxed me because of my general decrepit fitness. Even considering this, it took a lot for me to be sensible and not continue on into the still snowy heights of the Sierra beyond.

While standing at the turnaround vista, the view of Hetch Hetchy made me think about the state of the American environmental movement. We have come far in restoring our natural heritage, and have many victories to celebrate. In fact, we've succeeded in solving so many of our problems that the problems facing us now seem so insurmountable because they are the most complicated and difficult ones. We've established the value of natural areas, and that it is our responsibility to protect them. The challenge facing us today is one of balance. As we move towards sustainable environmental practices, we have to balance the movement forward with the fact that some areas and industries in our country may have to adapt, or go away entirely.

Without a doubt these are very tricky questions. What to get rid of coal? Then what do we do about the communities in Appalachia, the Midwest, or the West that depend almost entirely upon that industry? Want to reestablish healthy ecosystems on Bureau of Land Management lands out West? How do you get ranchers and their hands on your side, instead of doing everything in their power to keep their cattle grazing on federal lands? Want to build a non-partisan conservation movement built around consensus? Does this mean that protected land should be open to ATVs, hunting, or even certain forms of natural resource extraction?

Environmentalism and protection of our nation's natural treasures shouldn't be an issue for one political party. Throughout our nation's history there have been strong proponents for conservation and preservation across the political spectrum. Sure, we may disagree about the role of government in these efforts, or how fast we act, but liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between should be able to find common ground.

These questions were the topic of discussion for my sister and I as we descended back towards the dam. It was here that I resolved to make it a mission of my life to work on solving at least some of these problems. Maybe we won't get there soon, or even in my lifetime. But the very idea that we can leave this country and this planet in a better place than where we found it is reason enough to work at it. I believe we can live in a country that is environmentally conscious AND economically prosperous. We just have to work hard, think creatively, and keep an open mind.

Our natural areas are a crucial refuge from our hectic, frustrating, and often confusing world. Whether it is a place like Yosemite National Park, or the nearby city park or county forest preserve, each has its own virtues and importance. They all deserve our support and protection. Nothing dollarable is ever safe, as the example of Hetch Hetchy shows. Even still, Hetch Hetchy is a beautiful place. But perhaps some day that dam can come down, and it can restore itself to its pristine grandeur.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Journey: Weeks 7,8, and 9

Dates: May 17 to June 6

Weight Change (Period): -0.2 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -8.2 lbs

Don't be misled by that small total loss, as the past three weeks were a study in contrast. After one week I was actually down even farther, looking really good. Then the Memorial Day weekend hit, and a combination of eating, drinking, and lack of consistent exercise wrecked week 2. Fortunately, I was able to recover somewhat in week three, bringing myself back down to just below where I was in the middle of May.

What to do about those pesky holidays? So far during this journey I've faced two holidays (Easter and Memorial Day), and failed miserably at controlling consumption. I guess all I can do is start establishing better habits and work at sticking to them, even when the lure of grilled meat, beer, and tasty treats is at hand. It's about four weeks until Independence Day, so we'll see how that goes.

Game on.

Andrew

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Freezing at the Grand Canyon, Part Two

How in the hell did we lose the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. Having seen it before, I was pretty sure it would be impossible to miss, even in the dark. Naturally, I was wrong.

Because of our late arrival, we had to make the pragmatic (if less ideal) choice to put our tents up and get our food from the market before visiting the rim. By the time we were finished it was after dark. Despite this, I was adamant that we visit Mather Point before going back to make dinner. We may not have seen much, but at least we'd get to see it.

So on to the visitors center parking lot we went. At first we parked in one lot, but it was fairly empty, and we thought it was probably farther from the canyon. So we left that lot and went to one closer to the complex of buildings. There were more cars parked there, so we decided that was a good place to be.

One thing to realize about the Grand Canyon visitors center is that there is no overhead lighting. There were some lights which illuminated paths, and the buildings had lights to show you where they were, but there wasn't a real good way to tell where the canyon was. Had this been Oconoluftee, Yosemite Valley, or Beaver Meadows, I would have been able to find my way directly. However, we had only been to the Grand Canyon once, and it was before they had completely rebuilt the Visitors Center. Suffice it to say we were lost.

Eventually, we stumbled around the complex for a while, before finally ending up in a deserted parking lot behind the main building. A bit confused we walked on the sidewalk around there for what seemed like a good distance, before finally reaching a building with restrooms next to a path that led away from the parking lot. A short walk through the dark and down some steps, and we were there. Despite not really being able to see that much, a 5,000 foot deep canyon is still very breathtaking even in the dark. We were there only five minutes or so, but it was totally worth it. We walked back a different path, which turned out to be a quicker way to get back. Naturally the first parking lot we came to was the one we had first visited.

Our little journey to the edge of the canyon over, we headed back to our campsite to fix dinner. After filling our water, we got set on getting the fire started. It took a bit of effort, but eventually Erin got the fire started. I helped by wrapping the potatoes in aluminum foil and put the beans in the pot.

It didn't take long for the beans to cook, which was good, as we were hungry. The hot beans were good on a cold night, and went well with the peanut bar. We eagerly anticipated the potatoes, which Erin assured would be delicious. Just another few minutes, we thought. Yep, just a few more minutes and we'd be in tuber town.

As we came up to the beginning of quiet hours, the potatoes were still not done. At this point, we accepted they were a lost cause, and resolved to try them again. So instead of throwing them away, we put them back in the car. Remember them, as they will show up again later.

Since we were done with dinner, and quiet hours were about to begin, we decided it was time to head to bed. We visited the bathrooms, and went in to our respective tents. It was already rather cold, and it wasn't getting any warmer for a while.

I have to say my mattress pad worked fine for the two hours I was in there. However, getting situated in my mummy bag was a bitch, and I never was quite able to get it right. I had forgotten all the little noises a tent made when even a little breeze hit it. Every time I heard it move a bit, I thought someone (or something) was trying to get in my tent. Unwisely I had read a warning by the bathrooms about javelinas in the area, so I got paranoid that wild pigs were about ready to attack my tent.

Above all, my problem was that the sleeping pad would move when I tried to turn over. Eventually I ended up against the wall of the tent. As it was a two person hiking tent, and I was a very big guy with questionable knees, situating myself comfortably was a problem. After a couple hours of that crap, I called in the towel. I felt bad about it, but I needed to get at least a few minutes of sleep, and that would be more likely sitting in my car.

Apparently Erin was unaware of me retreating to the car. She had a rough night of it, sticking it out to the end. She would be best qualified to tell her story, so I won't even try. I have to say that she thought I either was sleeping very soundly, or was frozen stiff in my tent. Glad to see she was concerned, but not enough to check on me. Oh well, I guess I should have given her my sleeping pad, which was much better at insulating than her yoga pad.

At one point I somehow lost track of my phone AND my keys, which was kind of a pain in the ass to find and keep from disturbing people. I made the switch from the driver side to the passenger side so I wouldn't have to deal with the steering wheel. I played my iPod quietly for a while, although not too long, as it was almost out of power. I went back and forth between being awake and asleep. oftentimes residing in the hazy area in the middle. The car smelled of wood smoke (from my clothing) and underdone baked potatoes (from the underdone baked potatoes in the back seat). In spite of that, I made it through.

Finally I woke up and had to go to the bathroom again. I stumbled along between our neighbors' campsites, reaching the relative comfort of the bathroom. I don't think it was heated, but the lights kept it somewhat warmer than it was outside. I spent some time in there, before heading back out into the cold. Instead of walking back through the middle of the campsites, I decided to walk the road out and back in, as it wasn't that far from where I was going. Through the chill I walked, keeping one eye on the starry sky, and another eye on any mountain lions that might be hiding in the trees. As if I could do anything if there was one.

I was sad to see my quick walk end, but happy to see what the time was. As it turned out, it was almost 5:00 am. Shortly thereafter, the sky started to get slightly brighter. We had made it. Now it was time to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon.

Although I was excited to see it, getting Erin up was a bit more difficult. Reluctantly she got up and around, and we headed back off to the visitors center. Amazingly, it was much easier to find the canyon in the light of day. We stopped at a small overlook first, but eventually settled on the Mather Amphitheater. We stayed until the sun rose above the canyon walls. It was quiet and it was beautiful. From the changing colors as it grew lighter out, to the remnants of snow left high in the canyon, it was great. In short, it was what the Grand Canyon is supposed to be. Erin might disagree, but to me it was worth the cold night.

Of course, that wasn't the end of our Grand Canyon visit. We still had to eat some breakfast and strike the tents, tasks that we accomplished concurrently. Breakfast was malt-o-meal cooked over the fire and served in a plastic cup. I had my multiutensil with me, but for the twenty-fours I needed it I thought I didn't, so I mixed in water and drank it like it was a really thick drink. It was warm, and it was delicious, especially with some "craisins" mixed in.

Finally we had filled our bellies and emptied our campsite, packing it all back into my car. After returning our permit to the office, we did the usual Grand Canyon stuff, complete with a trip to Hermit's Rest for some hot chocolate (it was still cool in the shade) and a return visit to Mather Point. Not surprisingly, there were many other people there with us. We left at about 1:30 PM MST and headed towards Barstow. There were a few times my lack of sleep caused me some problems on the drive. However, some Powerade and beef jerky fixed that problem. Late that evening we made it to California, home of In n Out and some nifty blankets at the Roadway Inn there. But that is another story.

In the end, that was our only "real" night of camping, as we spent the rest of the trip in either motels or a tent cabin with blankets, beds, and a pizza deck nearby. It was chilly at Yosemite, although much better than the Grand Canyon. Although it wasn't my best night of sleep, it certainly was one of my more memorable nights. I can now say I camped at a National Park, which is something I intend to do again. As soon as I get warmed up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Somewhat Fun Thing that I'll Probably Do Again: Camping at the Grand Canyon

I've made a huge mistake.

As I sat beneath my sleeping bag in the passenger seat of my car, I couldn't escape from the words immortalized by Gob Bluth. The temperature outside my car was in the mid 20s, if that, and the sleeping bag, along with a fleece vest, a sweatshirt, a jacket, and my coat were barely keeping me from freezing. I checked my iPod for the time.

Well shit. It's only 1:15

It had been all of thirty minutes since I gave up on getting any sleep in my tent. I figured 5:00 was good enough to call it. Besides, the sun would rise early and that would be a good time to see it. Still, those three hours and forty five minutes figured to be long. Erin, a braver person than I, continued to fight it out in her tent. I, however, took the coward's way out, although it wasn't all that much warmer in the car.

How did we get in this mess?

It all started when I decided to take a trip out west in a spontaneous burst of desperation. I was out of work at the time, I had a few bucks in the bank, and I just felt the need to go to Yosemite. As my sister Erin was in a similar situation, she would join me on the expedition. Since we had camping equipment that had yet to be tried out, and because camping was several times cheaper than a hotel, we decided to camp as much as possible. Since it was (almost) on the way to Yosemite along I-40, we thought a quick jaunt to the Grand Canyon was in order. Hell, why not try our tents out there? I made the reservation a few days before we left and we were set. I made the reservations for Yosemite that same night, making sure to check the weather as we would be staying in an unheated tent cabin at Curry Village. Strange thing is I didn't check the weather at the Grand Canyon. We had been there before, and it was warm, so I'm sure we wouldn't have any issues. It was mid-April, after all.

Our reservation at the Grand Canyon was on Sunday evening. We left late Friday afternoon, about six hours early so we head south through Arkansas around the storm system traveling across the Great Plains. After a late arrival and early departure from Blytheville, AR we headed on towards Amarillo, TX, our stop for Saturday night.

It was here that I finally checked the weather and found out what awaited us. Turns out that the storm system that was causing problems across the Midwest also brought snow and cold temperatures to places to the west, including northern Arizona. Turns out that Sunday night, while not as cold as Saturday night, would be well below freezing. Despite being a rather warm winter and spring for most of the country, we picked one of the few nights that were the opposite to camp.

This wouldn't have been an issue if we were better equipped. Neither of us had a sleeping bag rated below 35 degrees. I had a sleeping pad and a blanket with me, but Erin had only a yoga pad with her. In retrospect, it was rather reckless of us, as we were heading into higher elevations at a time of year when they still can be rather cool. Nonetheless, we thought we'd be dealing with 40 degrees, not 20 degrees.

Erin was really reluctant to continue, wondering if we should do it. I said it would be a interesting experience, which didn't satisfy her at all. It turns out she thought I made the reservation that night after I had checked the weather. Looking back, her level of contempt towards the enterprise made more sense after that revelation. I wasn't too keen on losing the $18, and even less keen on finding somewhere else to stay that night, which would be at best $120.

Despite her sane reasoning, she assented, and we set off early Sunday morning on our long journey to the Mather Campgrounds. We made a quick stop at Petrified Forest National Park, but only got a few pictures of the actual petrified logs, as we had to dash away towards the Grand Canyon before sundown.

About an hour before dark we arrived at the registration building at the campgrounds. We retrieved our parking pass and our assigned camping spot, and headed to the campground. Our spot was the first one on the left of the loop, with nothing but trees to our north. We set up our tents and I set up my sleeping pad, taking advantage of the little remaining daylight. It was already chilly out, and it was just now getting dark. Practicality trumped tourism, as we knew we had to get food before we could see the canyon.

Therefore we set out to the village market. I have to say I was surprised at the market, as it was more of a supermarket than a camp store. We were able to find plenty of food, including canned beans, peanut bars, hot cereal, firewood, and other supplies. The main course of our evening meal would be two baked potatoes, wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked in the fire. We had our food, and now it was time to see in the Grand Canyon. Even if it was dark out.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Journey: Weeks 5 and 6

Dates: May 3 to May 16

Weight Change (Period): -3.6 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -8.0 lbs

Not much to say about the past two weeks. With a few exceptions I have continued my daily morning walk, which has certainly helped me keep my weight down. I went golfing one day during the period, walking all nine holes, which was good exercise. From now on I'll walk the course, unless it is in the dead of summer when a cart would be justified.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get any hikes in since I got back from the trip. As I move forward, I'm hoping to get at least threes hour of hiking in every weekend. During the week, I intend to continue my morning walk, and supplementing that with other exercise throughout the day.

On the ever important diet front, change is at best glacially incremental. I have begun drinking more water, which is a good thing. I made some better choices throughout the week, even eating carrots instead of something less healthy for a snack one night. I've also eaten less fast food, which I'm sure has played a big role.

1.8 lbs per week isn't my ideal rate, but at least it is still going down. Here's hoping I can make another small leap forward at my next milestone.

Until Next Time,

Andrew

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Journey: Weeks 2, 3, and 4

Dates: April 12 to May 2

Weight Change (Period): -6.0 lbs

Weight Change (Total): -4.4 lbs




As you can see, this is the first post in over three weeks for The Journey. The biggest reason was I was away from home on a trip to the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and especially Yosemite. Since my scale is rather bulky, I didn't take it with me, so with no way to record my weight change, I just decided to skip a couple of posts and merge them into one giant post.

As you can see from the results, perhaps I should skip posts more often (yeah, I'm sure that's the reason). I chalk the success of the past three weeks up to an increase in physical activity for the most part. We took some walks and a couple hikes on the trip (stay tuned for posts about these hikes), which I'm sure played a part. Since I returned from the trip I've walked every weekday morning save for May 3, and I mowed with a push mower that day. I still need to add even more activity than a 20-25 minute walk every day, but it definitely has helped.

On the other side of the equation, I can't say I've done as well as I could. I guess we did keep from overdoing the snacks on the trip, and I have added more fruits (if not vegetables) to my diet. However, I'm sure my total loss would be greater if I hadn't indulged in In n Out (ANIMAL STYLE ALL THE WAY), Whattaburger, and some unholy omelet concoction at Denny's that had five different types of meat in it. Nevertheless, this still marks an improvement over Week 1. I expect Week 5 to be better.

One thing from the trip I wanted to add to this is about the nutritional values being shown in the menus at IHOP and Denny's. I don't know if that was a CA regulation, or just the restaurants getting ahead of the curve, but it was interesting to see the calories in some of my favorite foods. I can't say it changed my choices, as the five meat omelet was obviously not on the healthy side of the menu. However, it did make think twice about ordering my overstuffed breakfast, and made me a better informed consumer. I shudder to think what some of the values for things I eat at other restaurants are.

Until next time,

Andrew

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Journey: Week One

Dates: April 5-11
Weight Change (Week): +1.6 lbs
Weight Change (Total): +1.6 lbs

So, uh yeah, that didn't go as well as I would have hoped. I suppose I shouldn't have started this journey the Thursday before Easter, as peanut butter eggs, jelly beans, and other sugary treats were far too tempting. This was coupled with a significant lack of exercise, at least through the weekend, a big disappointment considering the exercise I got on my trip to the Appalachians. All in all, it was not a good week.

However, it could have been worse. Starting on Monday, I began taking a morning walk with my father through the cemetery in Ridge Farm and back to their house. It's only about a 20-25 minute walk for about 1.15 miles, but it is a good start to the day, and has helped out. The walking, plus some slight improvements in my diet the last three days of the week did limit the weight gain to what is effectively within a margin of error.

Looking ahead, I am taking off on another trip this weekend, this time to Yosemite and other points west. I hope to be getting plenty of exercise and attempt to eat healthier if not completely healthy. My sister will be going with me, so I'm hoping maybe we both can inspire our better angels to take control on the road.

Until next time,

Andrew

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Journey: Getting in Shape

I'm a very big person.

I mean, yeah, I am a very tall person, about 6' 6''. But I also mean I am fat. Very, very fat. Naturally this causes me issues when I go out and hike. For instance, being as badly out of shape as I am makes walking up even the smallest hill takes my breath away. It means I take longer getting up to the top of a ridge, and causes me to be out of energy when I get there.

In addition, being big and walking up and down hills causes issues with my knees. Think of all that weight bouncing up and down on knees that have already had their share of turmoil, and you can see why I get apprehensive. Trekking poles help immensely, but I've only used them on walks of a mile or two.

Fortunately, this is something that can be changed. In fact, if I am to ever complete a long walk such as the Appalachian Trail, or any trail beyond the River Ridge Backpack Trail, it is an imperative that I change. I've tried several times with some success. However, I always seem to have found an excuse to revert to my bad habits. It's been really frustrating, to tell the truth.

This time I am going to try public shame. Well, I suppose shame is a bit strong. More accurately, I am going to use keeping a regular journal of my fight to get in shape to keep me honest and on mission.

This will be honest, no punches will be pulled. If I have a triumph, I will share it here. If I backslide or fail, it will also be here. I don't expect to succeed 100%, but I do expect to succeed in the long run.

The one piece of information I won't share is my actual weight, at least not for right now. This information is for myself alone. However, each week I will share how much I've lost (and hopefully not gained), so it shouldn't be too hard to suss out I'm a big guy from these early numbers.

At the very least this will be a weekly post, given every Thursday, which will be the end of my exercise week. I may share more throughout the week, but expect at least one every week. If you don't see this post by 9:00 CDT/CST (This week excepted), please let me know. Also, please share your encouragement/discouragement/statements of neutrality in the comments.

Here's to the journey.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Top Five (well, six) Places I like to Walk

Proof I was atop Blood Mountain...or at least near the top, not sure if that is the actual summit.


This list merely represents places that I have walked, at least a few trails of any consequence. Thus some places like Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Mt. Rainier National Parks are left off, as I have not taken any appreciable walks in these places.

Now on to the list, in no particular order.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Between family vacations and weekend getaways as an adult, this is the National Park I have visited the most in my life. I've yet to tackle any of the great trails, whether it is the 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail, or trails like Chimneytops and Alum Cave Bluffs. However, I've walked several of the quiet walkways spread throughout the park, and even with the roar of motorcyles in the background they have been tranquil walks through the woods. My favorite walk of all time in the park was when I tackled the 11 miles of the Cade's Cove Loop Road. Even with the hurt feet, exhaustion, and heavy weekend auto traffic, it was still a sight to see the valley crowned by snow-covered mountains.

2. Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado
Lakes dominate my walks at what is possibly my favorite National Park. From the easy jaunts around picturesque Bear Lake and Sprague (home to my first moose sighting), to more challenging hikes to Cub Lake and Bierstadt Lake, I've enjoyed walking in this wonderland, even if the higher elevation and I haven't always gotten along.

3. Chattahoochee National Forest and Northern Georgia, Georgia
Here is where I walked up to the summit of Springer and saw the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Here is where I tackled 625 stairs and walked to the top of Amicalola Falls. Here is where I took a frosty walk in serene isolation at Unicoi Bottoms, and saw what may be the largest buckeye tree in Georgia. Here is where I walked to the top of Blood Mountain, walking up the face of a large boulder to reach the top, the highest point in Georgia along the Appalachian Trail. Here is Fort Mountain, a place of legend and views across great valleys. Finally, here is where I walked up to the top of Brasstown Bald atop the state of Georgia. I hope someday soon I'll be able to return to this suprisingly awesome place to walk, especially in the winter.

4. Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Chickamauga, Tennessee and Georgia
The biggest thing I'll miss now that I moved away from Chattanooga (besides Champy's Chicken) is seeing Lookout Mountain about everywhere I go. The walk from Craven's House to the summit is still one of my favorite walks, as well as just walking to the edge atop Lookout Mountain. Atop the ridge to the southwest in Georgia is Cloudland Canyon, a beautiful place to walk, or just reflect at the scenery. For a flatlander struggling with the hills in the area, a more relaxing alternative was out at the Chickamauga Battlefield, where there were miles of trails through the forests and fields where so many Americans fought and died during that terrible September 1863. Even if you didn't leave downtown Chattanooga, the river walk provided a chance for a great walk along the Tennessee River.

5. Yosemite National Park, California
What can you say about Yosemite that hasn't already been said? I suppose I could just tell you to take a short walk, even if you only have a couple of hours to spend. Take the shuttle (or heck, walk) to Happy Isles and walk around. Walk out to Mirror Lake at get a nice view of Half Dome. Take the short trail to view Lower Yosemite Falls. None of these will take much time, and relatively little effort. All of them have interesting things to see and give you just that much of a closer view of the grandeur and majesty of this crown jewel of the National Park Service. Of course some day, when you are in better shape or have more time, walk past Mirror Lake, walk up to Vernal Falls or Nevada Falls, or even tackle the hike up and/or down to/from Glacier Point. When you are really ready for a challenge, the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails will be there waiting for you (assuming you have your permits in order).

Because it is my blog post, and thus my rules, I'll add another one.

6. Forest Glen County Preserve, Illinois
It would be dishonest of me to write this list without including that little piece of nature I've visited the most, and which is closest to where I live. The Vermilion River has nothing on the Tennessee River, and the views atop the ridges overlooking the river pale in comparison to anything along Trail Ridge Road. The burbling little ripples along Willow Creek are infinitesimal compared to the Yosemite or Amicalola Falls, and there are no Bison, Elk, Bears, or Giant Sequoia trees to view. Nonetheless, Forest Glen is still nature, and it is still a walk in the woods. Deer, squirrels, raccoons, and many other animals call it home, and sometimes even the bald eagle can be seen in or near the park. The eleven mile River Ridge Backpack Trail is a true trail, about as challenging as it gets in East Central Illinois. Although a popular park, there are enough trails spread across different parts of the park that it isn't rare to have the trail to yourself even on beautiful spring days. Hawk Hill, the main trail down to the Vermilion River would be at home in the climb up to Blood Mountain. Even as my hiking accomplishments grow more numerous and more impressive, I still imagine I'll find myself walking along the Deer Meadow trail, or the Old Barn Trail, or the hike up the "big hill" on the Tall Trees Trail. After all, a walk in the woods is still a walk in the woods. Unless you are walking through the tall grass prairie.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My (probably unfounded) worries #1: Inclement Weather Hiking

Watching the wet snow fall in Ridge Farm this evening got me thinking about hiking in inclement weather. For those who know me, you are probably aware I'm a bit wary about walking around in snow and ice. Part of this is my worrisome nature, but a part is based on personal experience, as I've had the misfortune of falling many, many times on icy and snowy terrain. Fortunately, its never been more than a few scrapes and bruises, a bit of humility, and the occasional ruined pair of pants.

It should be noted that most of these slips have happened in my own yard, driveway, or while walking to work from the parking lot. I've only slipped three time while walking in muddy, snowy, or icy conditions out in nature, at least in recent memory. One was because I was a dumbass who stepped right on to a frost-covered bridge without thinking (Fat Man Goes BOOM on his bottom at Unicoi Bottoms! This and more at 11), while another was walking down a small snow covered hill in Cade's Cove. The most serious was when I took a tumble on an incredibly slippery boardwalk in Okefenokee Swamp. There I felt tightness in my upper leg, which probably would have become serious had I not pulled my leg out from under me surprisingly quickly. It was a little sore walking around at Disney World (and the lovely Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve) with my sister, but other than that it was fine. All in all I've been lucky.

However, being lucky with my slips still doesn't abate my worries. That doesn't mean it controls me, as I've gone out hiking in rainy or even snowy (in the case of Cades Cove) conditions even fairly recently. Were it just a fear of falling down, I don't think I'd think that much on it.

Of course, there is more than just slips and falls to think about when it comes to hiking and inclement weather. When hiking in the winter, in wintry conditions, or when it is rainy and 60 degrees or colder, the ever-present threat of hypothermia is out there. When I think of this, I'm reminded of a short hike my brother and I did out at Rocky Mountains National Park. Although it started out nice and sunny, it turned cool and rainy as we finished up the hike. A good half-mile or more was in these conditions. Of course, that isn't that far, but when you are an idiot out-of-shape flatlander hiking without a jacket or any covering in pouring rain, it seems like 20 miles. I'm not sure we were ever in danger of hypothermia, although it certainly wasn't good for us. Still, had it been colder, or were we a couple miles deeper into our trip, I'm not sure how that would have turned out.

As you could probably gather from that only partially related tale above, another factor of hiking, at least on trails in mountainous areas, is the dynamic nature of weather. Having spent several weekends in the Smokies, and having taken several trips to the Rockies, I can attest to how quickly weather can deteriorate. Although the Appalachian Trail and its companions in the east aren't quite as exposed to threats of lightning (because of their lack of land above treeline), it still is something to think about, especially when hiking in balds or our ridgelines. And of course, especially out west, you have to watch out for normally gentle streams becoming death channels when heavy rain is dumped from above. Being as tall as I am, lightning and open spaces always makes me wary. However, most of this can be avoided by using common sense, not being stupid, and keeping an eye on the weather.

There are other worries related to hiking and inclement weather, but most of those are of a lesser concern. I'm not much of a winter hiker, so things like watching for possible areas of snow that could collapse or the proper use of an ice ax aren't really a concern of mine right now. While I would be worried of camping in a gap as a tornado comes through, I've grown up with that concern my entire life (living in IL, after all), so it doesn't really bother me that much. I'm sure getting caught in a hurricane would be awful, but that is something that you should be able to anticipate. If the track shows it going through north GA, don't hike in north GA around time it is expected.

In the end, I think it is good to be worried, provided it doesn't prevent you from getting out there and hiking. As long as you channels those worries into being prepared, it is a very productive thing to do. So I won't let a little ice, mud, rain, or snow get in my way. After all, there are much bigger things to worry about, like 'squatches and snipes.